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Reproduced courtesy of Miniyawany Yunupingu


Date: 1998
Overall: 1300 × 1220 mm
Medium: Natural pigments on bark
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Purchased with the assistance of Stephen Grant of the GrantPirrie Gallery
Object Copyright: © Miniyawany Yunupingu
Object Name: Bark painting
Object No: 00033790
Place Manufactured:Northern Territory

User Terms

    This painting depicts three scenes on interwoven panels. At the top is a portrayal of Wuhanu, the ancestral snake rising from its sacred home in the sea and Malarra (manta ray) swimming. Wuhanu spits lightning into the sky to form rain clouds which are represented by ochre coloured triangles. In the painting's middle panel the totems of Bäru (the crocodile) and Gawanalkmirri (the stingray) are shown in the saltwater of Gunbilk. At the bottom the artist has portrayed their sea country at Caledon Bay with two dugongs, two Hawkesbill turtles and a water buffalo.
    SignificanceThis bark is representative of the people belonging to the Yirritja moiety of the Gumatj clan in the homeland of Biranybirany. It forms part of a series of 80 bark paintings produced by the traditional owners of East Arnhem Land in an effort to educate outsiders of their stories, land rights and laws.
    HistoryThe Yol?u people of Arnhem Land inhabit a landscape that was formed by the actions of ancestral beings, who can take both human and animal form. For instance water now flows where these creatures walked and hills have formed where they died. Ancestral time is not just in the past but also the present and future. In light of this the sacred landscape and stories of East Arnhem Land are central to the Yol?u people’s way of life and prominent themes in their bark paintings.

    The Saltwater Project began in 1996 after an illegal fishing camp was discovered at Garranali, a sacred Aboriginal site in East Arnhem Land. This sacred area is home to the ancestral crocodile Bäru and found among the litter of the illegal camp was the severed head of a crocodile. This discovery prompted the local Yolngu people to produce a series of bark paintings that expressed the rules, philosophies and stories of their region. The project culminated in the production of 80 barks and stressed the importance of Yol?u land ownership, laws and codes of behaviour for those who interacted with the landscape.

    The Yol?u have been involved in the land rights struggle since the 1960s. They currently are recognised as the traditional owners of northeast Arnhem Land under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act. This act was passed in the Northern Territory in 1976 and is seen as the benchmark in the recognition of Aboriginal land ownership in Australia. Despite this the issues of Indigenous land ownership, rights, customs and law continue to be contentious in the Australian legal system and wider community.
    Additional Titles

    Primary title: Nanydjaka

    Collection title: Saltwater collection

    Web title: Nanydjaka

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